Despite its quirks, Windows can be a wildly underrated OS for music. Of course, that has little to do with the way it works out of the box. It’s a matter of tweaking your setup so you reshape it into a finely-tuned musical tool. And I believe in sharing that info, because ultimately you should be able to make music on whichever OS you choose.
Rain Recording, a custom PC vendor that specializes in building systems for music and creative work, asked me to write up some of my favorite tools for just that job. For the first part, I looked at the unpleasant stuff — tools for troubleshooting your system and keeping it operating at maximum efficiency.
Part 2 is more fun — the goodies that actually help your musical workflow. I kept this entirely to utilities for MIDI and control, but thanks to the effort of some passionate musician-programmers, that winds up being an impressive toolkit. Quite a few items are Windows-only. (I do actually intend to cover Mac OS and Linux, too, but Windows stacked up pretty well.)
My picks, all free, donationware (and do donate and support these tools!), or relatively cheap:
1. MIDI-OX: This is usually the first utility I install on any PC — it’s a do-everything MIDI monitor and MIDI-processing utility, for watching messages, troubleshooting, and performing various processing tasks. Donationware.
2. MIDI-Yoke: Unfortunately, Windows doesn’t have built-in inter-app communication between apps using MIDI, but MIDI-Yoke performs the task elegantly. (Note, Processing lovers: it also works with Java, so this can allow you to build wild interfaces for music in Processing that control other apps.) Donationware.
3. Bome MIDI Translator: A fantastic tool for creating custom MIDI mappings, translating MIDI to QWERTY keystrokes (and back again), and building rules for performance. Prices range from free to EUR59 for end-user releases, but this is one spending money on.
4. SendSX from Bome sends System Exclusive data. Free.
5. Bome’s Mouse Keyboard gives you an on-screen, clickable interface for controlling synths — essential for when you’re doing some last-minute synth programming and set editing on the go. (Yes, like if you decide to make a last-second tweak in the hotel room before a gig.) Free.
6. Edrum Monitor This tool is useful enough for drums alone, with powerful features for adapting input from electronic drum kits and drum sensors for better accuracy. But they didn’t stop there: with deep data monitoring tools, visual meters for calibration, and support for keyboard, mouse, and joystick inputs, this is just an insane do-everything tool that deserves its own category. Donationware.
7. Jack for Windows An inter-app or even inter-computer audio server, ported from Linux. Linux does Jack better, but if you can’t bear to part with your Windows software, it’s worth testing this – and hopefully someone can help the talented Jack team support and develop it further on the Windows OS. Free.
8. Wormhole2: Think Portal for your host of choice: insert this VST plug-in, and you can route audio to and from different apps, different PCs, or even between Macs and PCs easily. Finally, you can bridge the platform divide and the Mac can lie down with the Windows PC happily. This began as commercial software from Plasq, but it’s now free and open source.
9. MCmu: Emulate Mackie Control with devices that don’t support it. Make devices that do support Mackie Control better. Get the controller power you need with apps like Ableton Live and SONAR. Brilliant stuff. EUR39.
10. OSCGlue: Broadcast OpenSoundControl messages from within a host, ideal for gluing together music software and live visuals. Free, from the vvvv community.
11. WMIDI: Transmit MIDI from Wacom (or other brand) tablet input, complete with tilt and pressure, to turn your graphics tablet into an expressive musical controller. Free.
12. GlovePIE: Somehow I left this out of my original round-up. Take joysticks, gamepads, mice, keyboards, MIDI input devices, Wiimotes, and other devices, output MIDI, keystrokes, and other forms of control (even OSC). It’s my favorite software for control input/output. Requires some scripting, but there are some good sample scripts; hope to post more soon. Free.
Full details and more commentary (plus some additional picks):
Of course, this is just a short list of my personal favorites. Any I left out, Windows users?